Originally published 11:15 a.m. Updated with responses from Rep. Neil Abramson 3:30 p.m.
Children's Hospital is still interested in purchasing the shuttered New Orleans Adolescent Hospital (NOAH), but meeting demands that it be used only for psychiatric services — as mandated by a law passed last year — would be too expensive, Children's spokesman Brian Landry told the New Orleans City Council today. Landry's appearance before the City Council was a rebuttal to state Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, who announced last month that Children's had signed a lease for the NOAH property. The lease required that the hospital reopen NOAH for adolescent mental health treatment.
Today, Landry said Children's only signed the lease in order to continue talks to purchase the property.
"Last year, we approached the state and said we would like to purchase the NOAH property," Landry said, adding that Sen. David Heitmeier, D-New Orleans, sponsored a bill allowing for the sale, without conditions. "When it got to the House, an [Abramson-sponsored] amendment was added that would only allow a lease" and provide that the property must be used for mental health services. That version passed.
“Sen. Heitmeier was not apprised by my prior involvement with this piece of property, that I’ve been working on bringing mental health to for the past five years," said Abramson, who represents the district that includes NOAH, in a phone interview. “Once I apprised him, he quickly worked with me.”
The law, he added, was passed unanimously by both the House and the Senate and signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“This was a collective thing done by everybody. We were all in agreement.”
The law also required that Children's would have to agree to a lease by Jan. 31 of this year, or the property would be offered to the highest bigger. The hospital signed a lease on Jan. 25.
"We made it clear we were not intending to lease the property to provide those services," but were hoping to continue negotiations, Landry said.
(More after the jump)
"State law is very clear that there has to be a mental health component to the disposition to the state property," Abramson said. “Children’s Hospital signed the lease ... Why would someone sign the lease if they weren’t going to live up to its terms?”
Landry said meeting the requirements of the lease would cost Children's more than $20 million and would be unnecessary. He said Children's Calhoun campus, adjacent to NOAH, already provides extensive child and adolescent mental health services, including 33 psychiatric beds.
"We also have the ability to expand that building to provide an additional 16 beds, which we will do based on demand," Landry said. Dr. Andrew Williams, director of behavioral health for the hospital and a former NOAH employee, said his unit treated more than 1,400 children and adolescents last year.
State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, has filed a new bill that would strip the requirements from the law. Children's is still hoping to purchase the property, Landry said. Abramson has a competing bill that would transfer an offer to lease the land to Ochsner Health Systems if Children's refuses to comply with the current agreement.
"At the end of the day, my ultimate goal is to have full health care for children and adolescents, which includes not only physical but mental health care," Abramson said. "Currently, we have a severe shortage of mental health care in New Orleans, and I’m trying to make sure that we have a full range of services for our kids."